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Breton campaigners celebrate ‘historic breakthrough’ after French assembly passes language law

09 Apr 2021 3 minutes Read
Picture by Kergourlay (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Breton campaigners have celebrated a “historic breakthrough” in efforts to save their language after the French parliament passed a law on the protection and promotion of minority languages.

The law will make it possible for children to receive immersive education in languages like Breton – as well as Catalan, Occitan, Basque, Corsican or Alsatian – boost funding for schools teaching them and recognise the languages as part of France’s national heritage.

It was France’s first law in support of regional languages since the fifth republic began in 1958 and was passed by 247 votes to 76 in the French national assembly yesterday despite being opposed by the French education minister.

After the vote, the Breton politician behind the law, Paul Molac, led a rendition of Brittany’s anthem on the steps of the national assembly. The anthem shares the tune and lyrics of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau.

The president of Brittany, Loïg Chesnais-Girard, said the vote was a “tremendous step forward”, while Plaid Cymru’s Breton sister party, the Breton Democratic Union, called it a “historic breakthrough” that will act as an “essential framework to offer a future to our languages.”

Daniel Camos, the Catalan government’s representative in France, said it was a “small step towards the recognition of Catalan in France” and “for the promotion of linguistic diversity in the world”.

Gael Briand, editor of the Peuple Breton magazine, told Nation.Cymru: “We can’t say that our languages have been saved and they are still not co-official but important advances have been obtained.

“Above all, it was education that was at stake – immersive education has been approved and funding for Diwans (Breton language schools) will be more secure.”

‘Danger’

The vote came weeks after two major demonstrations in Brittany sparked by French government plans to slash the amount of teaching time allowed in Breton and cut funding needed to train more Breton teachers.

Emmanuel Macron had promised to support regional languages during his election campaign, but his education minister, Michel Blanquer, opposed the law yesterday along with the parliamentary group of the president’s La République En Marche party.

Blanquer claimed during the debate that France had already “found the right balance” between regional languages and French and said there is a “social risk behind immersion” in minority languages because some children could fall behind in French.

In response, Paul Molac said France’s regional languages are “classed as in danger of extinction according to UNESCO and the percentage of students learning them is totally insufficient to ensure their future”.

Urging MPs to “put our foot on the accelerator”, he pointed out Quebec had passed a similar law to protect French in Canada more than 40 years ago.

Despite the official opposition of Macron’s party, some 100 of its MPs rebelled to vote in favour of the law. The majority of MPs in the France Insoumise group of far-left presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon voted against the law.

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